New Zealand is one of the most beautiful, welcoming and safe travel destinations on earth - but like anywhere, as a traveller you do need to be aware of any potential risks and make smart decisions when you are planning your visit.
We've been hosting travellers to New Zealand since the 1970s on our small group tours, and have done a lot of overseas travel ourselves too. What we love about travelling in New Zealand is that feeling of everything being right with the world, there's nothing to worry about. But of course we're not naive and nor should you be when you travel, so here is how we answer the question "Is New Zealand safe?" and some safety tips to for your New Zealand travel.
Bilbo Baggins once said to Frodo in the Lord of the Rings (which was filmed in beautiful New Zealand), “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.” (He was speaking from experience.)
“You’ll step onto the road and if you don’t keep your feet,” the wise elderly hobbit explained, “there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Bilbo was right - anytime you leave home for somewhere unfamiliar there are inherent risks involved. However, when it comes to travel destinations New Zealand is one of the most non-threatening places in the world and even the spots that resemble Mount Doom are relatively free from dragons and other major dangers!
New Zealand is one of the safest countries in the world - we have no real enemies and are isolated from any troublesome locations by thousands of kilometres of ocean. According to the 2017 Global Peace Index, which ranks 162 countries based on their risk of personal violence, New Zealand is the 2nd safest country in the world (just after Iceland). In other words, this means that New Zealand is the most peaceful English speaking country in the world. No wonder kiwis are so laid back and relaxed - we really don’t have much to worry about.
Many celebrities and high profile people own property in New Zealand and are no doubt drawn by the peace and tranquility. (In fact, this article reports that many wealthy Americans are buying property in New Zealand as a safe place to go in the event of a major global catastrophe.)
Society is tolerant here and there are low levels of racial tension compared to the United States and the United Kingdom. In New Zealand society there exists a general belief in fairness and that everyone is equal and deserving of respect. New Zealanders are not known for being quick to anger and most will want to resolve disputes in a friendly and calm way.
New Zealand has never had an incident of radical terrorism which is a relief in a world where major tourist hotspots such as Paris and London have been targets for attacks recently.
New Zealand also has high standards of general health and hygiene. No vaccinations are required to enter the country and it is unlikely that you will suffer from food poisoning. The water is clean and safe to drink and the cleanliness standards of restaurants, hotels and other facilities are the same as in any other first world country.
Risks to be aware of when visiting New Zealand
According to the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, New Zealand is ranked as the least corrupt country in the world. However, this is not to say that crime doesn’t exist in New Zealand - of course it does. It is simply that the rates of crime are lower than in many other countries.
The best way you can protect yourself against any harm in New Zealand is to take smart steps to decrease your likelihood of being a target. Be aware of your surroundings and think ahead and you will be able to decrease your risk of getting into any undesirable situations. Read on to learn about what you can do to keep yourself safe on your travels.
Note: New Zealand’s emergency phone number is 111 and it is free to call. There are also Police Stations in all the main towns and cities, as well as in many rural locations.
Crime and petty theft in New Zealand
Although the risks are small, there is the possibility that you may lose your valuables, have something stolen out of your accommodation, or become the victim of a security scam such as credit card identity theft.
Again, this is quite unlikely. According to many statistics, you will be more likely to be robbed in the USA than in New Zealand. The statistics on NationMaster show that New Zealand records 59.7 robberies annually per 100,000 people. In comparison, the USA records 146.4, Canada 94.2 and Australia 81.8. One of the strongest statements we can make about general safety here in New Zealand is that the regular police don't carry guns on their person, that's right, take a look when you see a Kiwi police officer on the street, you won't see them carrying a firearm!
Although crime and petty theft are low risk threats in New Zealand, they are possible so here are some steps that you can take to protect yourself:
- Keep your accomodation locked at all times and keep valuable items in a safe if the hotel room provides it.
- Lock your vehicle and keep your windows secure. If you are carrying valuables in your vehicle, lock them in the boot (trunk).
- Don’t carry large amounts of valuables, cash or expensive jewellery around with you.
- Be aware when you are using an ATM and hide your PIN from anyone around you.
- Watch out for card scanners on ATMs that seem out of place or flimsy, as they may have been replaced with fake card scanners.
- Don’t leave bags, purses, backpacks, shopping bags, wallets or cameras unattended anywhere, especially in public places.
- If possible, avoid walking around cities by yourself at night. If you go out to enjoy the nightlife it is best to take a friend so that you have someone to watch out for you.
- Keep an eye on your credit card when you are using it and try not to let it out of your sight.
- Make sure your belongings are covered by travel insurance with individual cover for valuable items.
- Keep a copy of your passport in your luggage and on your phone, as well as with someone back home.
- Make sure you know your embassy's phone numbers.
These are mostly common sense ways of protecting yourself that you probably already practice in your home country. These are good tips to follow as a general rule anywhere you travel.
Environmental dangers in New Zealand
One of the best parts of traveling in New Zealand is exploring the stunning wilderness. From rugged moon-like volcanic landscapes to lush rainforests to rolling green vineyards to snow-capped mountains and icy glaciers - the scenery is incredibly diverse for such a small country. There are many ways to enjoy New Zealand’s open spaces, including hiking, camping, swimming, cycling and more.
The good news is that there aren’t any dangerous wildlife species to worry about in New Zealand. Although Australia has poisonous spiders and snakes as well as dingos, crocodiles and other creatures to watch out for, NZ is completely free of scary creepy crawlies. (Well, we have one poisonous spider called the Katipo, who lives only in sand dunes in the North Island, so if you're walking barefoot in the sandunes be careful!)
Here are some tips to keep in mind when exploring the great outdoors in New Zealand:
- Make sure to wear sunscreen and stay out of the direct sunlight in the heat of the day. The ozone layer is weaker here and you can sunburn more easily.
- Carry water with you when spending time outdoors, so that you can avoid getting dehydrated.
- Always wear a lifejacket when boating on one of New Zealand’s beautiful rivers and lakes or in the ocean.
- Check the weather conditions before you go on a hike - the weather can change quickly especially at high altitudes.
- Do your research to find out what kind of terrain to expect on a hike, how long it will take and how much water and food you should bring.
- When you are going hiking, always tell somewhere where you are going and when you expect to be back. Or, you can leave a detailed trip plan with the Department of Conservation.
- Know your limits when enjoying outdoors sports such as cycling, hiking, climbing and don’t try to tackle more than you can handle.
- Bring the correct safety equipment, including a way to call for help if you need it. This might need to be a personal locator beacon, as you are unlikely to get cell phone coverage outside of the main city centers.
- When swimming at any of New Zealand’s beaches, always swim between the flags as they are placed there to mark the safest place to swim. When you swim outside of these areas, you put yourself at risk for being pulled out to sea by a rip current.
- It is unlikely that you will experience an earthquake or a natural disaster, but if you do the locals will be prepared there will be considerable community support for visitors as there was in Kaikoura after the 2016 earthquake.
Here's a great resouce, this safety guide for travellers to New Zealand from the NZ police.
Have fun and stay safe
New Zealand is a beautiful and safe place to visit. As long as you stay aware of your surroundings and take common sense precautions, you will be unlikely to run into any trouble during your stay. The biggest danger might be having so much fun that you don’t want to go home!
The very best way you can keep yourself safe in New Zealand (and anytime you travel) is to know as much as possible about your destination and to be aware of what to watch out for. Take basic precautions and think ahead and you will be completely fine.
Having a trusted local on hand to help is why lots of people choose to go with a tour group, like ours at MoaTrek. Your Kiwi Guide will know their way around and will be able to give you tips for staying safe. You've also got instant friends to discover the towns and cities with, making it safe and fun. Here at MoaTrek we've been running small group guided tours all over New Zealand since the 1970s, when you travel with us you can relax and know that everything will be taken care of and you can travel in comfort while enjoying everything New Zealand has to offer. See more about our tours here.